After two weeks of false starts it is quite a relief to finally write my first Amateur Adventures in Film post of the 2020 season.
There was an interesting discussion I listened to recently that was discussing the similarities between the Sean McVay and Kyle Shanahan offences despite the personnel and formations being different, and with the 49ers being one of the teams I hadn’t seen yet this season, who beat the Giants soundly in week three I thought I would take a look at their offence with backup Nick Mullens as their quarterback.
The 49ers offence is ranked eighth by DVOA despite starting Mullens last week and having a number of injuries at receiver and running back as well as missing probably the best tight-end in the game right now in George Kittle. However, the 49ers are not a team that rely on a single running back and use 21 personnel and 12 personnel a lot and so certainly coped against the Giants’ eighteenth ranked by DVOA defence.
What I enjoyed was the way they switched personnel groupings and formations so that they frequently had two running backs on the field but would line up in shotgun or flex a running back out as a receiver. There was also nearly always motion before the snap to help Mullens identify what the defence was giving him, but this motion would also be used to present multiple actions out of the same look. The 49ers are also a team who run more out of shotgun formation than any other team I remember. The lack of motion pre-snap also was not a tell that a pass was coming, and I loved on their final touchdown run that tight-end Ross Dwelley (who was the player who probably moved most pre-snap all game) came across the formation in a jet motion but then blocked to allow running back Jeff Wilson to squeeze into the end-zone for a touchdown.
The commitment to the run was a foundation of how the 49ers offence was run, even if it was not necessarily that efficient as it only generated ninety-three yards off thirty-five carries, but the 49ers used this to keep the Giants’ defence guessing what was happening as well as scoring three touchdowns on the ground. For this offence there is very creditable threat that they are going to run the ball with a near 50-50 split of pass and run plays, which makes their play-action all the more convincing. This meant that despite no-one leaping off the screen in terms of a dominant player, the 49ers generated four hundred and twenty yards and four touchdowns whilst possessing the ball for nearly forty minutes of this game. This is no small feat with a backup quarterback but Mullins if unspectacular, looked efficient running an offence designed to put him in positions to succeed. The Giants defence would stuff a run every now and again, with former Jet defensive lineman Leonard Williams catching the eye multiple times against both the run and pass, but the 49ers always seemed to have answers.
It took some time for Kyle Shanahan and his hand picked GM John Lynch to build the franchise how they wanted, but after a couple of seasons they made the Super Bowl and have built a team good enough to compete despite and injury list that would have felled many a team in the NFL. I don’t know if they can maintain this throughout the season, but a well schemed offence that is running this well despite the current situation looks like it will go a long way to giving them a chance.